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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The Doctor's Consultation

Care for Dogs

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Money Matters

DVD of the Week

Let's Go To The Movies

Bridge in Paradise

MAIL OPINION

How does your garden grow?

Life in Chiang Mai

Day Tripper

Staying happy in Paradise - the Counseling Corner

The Doctor's Consultation:  by Dr. Iain Corness

Slipped a disc recently?

Would it surprise you if I said that ‘vanity’ was one of the prime reasons we get back pain? The real reason you get a bad back is because our forefathers decided we looked better walking on our hind legs, instead of all four. Just like a horse, the bones of our spines lock together nicely when we are on all fours, and weight can be carried easily on our backs. However, when we stand up and try and lift, it all goes pear-shaped from there. The spine was not designed to carry loads, or pick up loads, in the vertical position.

But unfortunately, lift and carry is a prime example of what we call on people to do, from mothers lifting babies to laborers lifting bags of rice. The presenting situation is one we meet only too often. The patient is doing something and suddenly everything locks up and they are immobilized, frozen to the spot. I was once called out to a factory toilet where the chap was bent over the urinal, and too afraid to move, the pain was so acute.

Back pain is one of the commonest orthopedic problems, and the often used terms such as lumbago, sciatica and slipped discs are spoken about frequently.

Let’s look at the “slipped disc” problem. First thing - discs do not “slip”. They do not shoot out of the spaces between the vertebrae (the tower of cotton reels that makes up your spine) and produce pain that way. The disc actually stays exactly where it is, but the center of the disc (called the nucleus) pops out through the edge of the disc and hits the nerve root. When this happens you have a very painful condition, as anyone who has had a disc prolapse (our fancy name for the “popping out” bit) will tell you. Think of the pain when the dentist starts drilling close to the tiny nerve in your tooth. Well, this is a large nerve! When the nucleus of the disc hits the sciatic nerve, this produces the condition known as Sciatica - an acute searing pain which can run from the buttocks, down the legs, even all the way through to the toes.

Unfortunately, just to make diagnosis a little difficult you can get sciatica from other reasons as well as prolapsing discs. It may just be soft tissue swelling from strain of the ligaments between the discs, or it could even be a form of arthritis. Another complicating fact is that a strain may only produce enough tissue swelling in around 12 hours after the heavy lifting, so you go to bed OK and wake the next morning incapacitated. And then you have to convince the employer that you did it on his time.

To accurately work out just what is happening requires bringing in those specialist doctors who can carry out extremely intricate forms of Medical Imaging called CT Scans, Spiral CT’s or MRI that will sort out whether it is a disc prolapse, arthritis or another soft tissue problem. The equipment to do these procedures costs millions of baht, and the expertise to use them takes years of practice and experience. This is one reason why some of these investigations can be expensive.

After the definitive diagnosis of your back condition has been made, then appropriate treatment can be instituted. The forms of treatment can be just simply rest and some analgesics (pain killers), physiotherapy, operative intervention or anti-inflammatories and traction.

Now perhaps you can see why it is important to find the real cause for your aching back. The treatment for some causes can be the wrong form of therapy for some of the other causes. “Self diagnosis” is dangerous!

So what do you do when you get a painful back? Rest and paracetamol is a safe start. If it settles quickly, then just be a little careful with lifting and twisting for a couple of weeks and get on with your life as normal. If, however, you are still in trouble after a couple of days rest, then it is time to see your doctor and get that definitive diagnosis. It is the orthopedic chaps you need to see.

 

Meet Bruce! Urgently in need of a loving home

This gorgeous American Pitbull was left behind by his owners when they moved away. Thankfully neighbours called Care for Dogs to inform us of his plight. Bruce is very friendly with people, but dominant with other dogs, and therefore would best suit a home where he can rule the roost and preferably fly solo. He is about 3-4 years old and recently sterilised. Because of his dominant personality a life at the shelter will not be easy for him or other dogs so we would like to see him in a loving home as soon as possible.

If you think Bruce could be the right one for you – contact the shelter English (08 47 52 52 55) or Thai language (08 69 13 87 01) to make an appointment to meet him, e-mail: [email protected] carefordogs.org or visit the website for further information.


Heart to Heart  with Hillary

My Dear champagne addicted petal;

You are evidently not in the ‘in crowd’ of beer drinkers. Lotus, Big C, etc., charge more for cold beer and why spend perfectly good beer money getting there? As far as my spelling goes, I didn’t use my spell checker like you (you are not that intelligent dear) but was actually referring to my loves (sic) TWO BUFFALOES but did not indicate that. Check your spell checker and you will see that the plural for buffalo is not BUFFALOS; which probably means something weird in Spanish. See you at the AA when WE get sober. You first.

Singha Jerry

Dear Singha Jerry,

You take me to task for something you “did not indicate”. So I am a mind reader now as well as being the ear for the lamented and demented. Where did I mention two animals? I didn’t. Where did you mention two animals? You didn’t. You wrote about a singular buffalo, which has no “e” on the end. And if you wish to be totally correct, then it should be “my love’s” and not “my loves”, my pedantic Petal (the apostrophe indicating possession). And before you rush back into the 7-11 to grab another cheap tinny thinking you have something to celebrate, the plural of buffalo is also “buffalo” (Concise Oxford). And since you are obviously a Cheap Charlie, I won’t be getting drunk on your champagne, will I Jerry?

Dear Hillary,

A friend who has been to Thailand who put me on to your website. I have been reading your column on dating and have enjoyed it very much. As I am going to be there in September for the first time I am writing. It seems that everyone I ask (single men like myself) talk about being at the bars as the way to meet the working women of Thailand. While I realize this is not the only way I do have a question. If one is not a big drinker will I offend if I do not drink a lot or wish to leave to go see music, movies or see the country.

James

Dear James,

I can assure you that the ladies from the bars have not the slightest interest in how much ‘you’ drink, only in how much ‘they’ drink, while you are paying of course! This is because they receive a percentage of the cost of the ‘lady drinks’, while they get nothing from the price of your drinks. This is how they make money, as they are ‘working’ women, getting their monthly salaries in many ways. It works like this, since you have not been here before, Petal. They generally receive a small wage (or retainer), and then their lady drinks percentage plus a percentage of the so-called ‘bar fine’ which is what the punters (like you) pay for the honor and glory of taking one of the blushing young ladies away from the bar to see music, movies or the country. Anything else is a private arrangement between the lady and the customer, as you have to realize that there is no prostitution in Thailand, because the government said so. And the statute books have said so since about 1966. While you are paying for things, you will not offend, James.

Dear Hillary,

I met a Thai girl last year, since then I have been coming to Thailand every 3-4 months, to see her. We have exchanged the phone numbers and the e-mails and we have been in contact with each other all the time. However, I cannot seem to be able to explain to her the meaning of “about” or “around”. You see, she is always eager to know when I will be arriving to Thailand next time and when I reply to her “in about three months”, she takes it literally to be 90 days, because when I call her the next time - for instance in two weeks - she starts asking for my arrival date and when I reply to her in about three months, she gets upset as in her mind I have changed the date and should be arriving in two and a half months and not three. Hillary, please help me in finding correct words to convey her what I mean when I say “about”. I even tried “approximate” but that confused her even more.

Ali

Dear Ali,

I take it from your letter that English isn’t your mother tongue either, so you already know some of the problems your girlfriend is having in trying to communicate in another language. You have also found the answer yourself when you say in your letter that it could be 1-2 weeks postponed - in other words, you are saying that it will be in “about” one to two weeks. When you want to say you will be coming back in “about three months” then what you have to say is “coming back in 3-4 months” and your Thai girlfriend will know that this means “about”. Remember too, that one reason why she will want to tie down the dates is that she has to organize and arrange her life too, please don’t forget that.


Camera Class:  by Harry Flashman

A different viewpoint

By cultivating the artistic eye you can produce some outstanding wall art, and this week I want to help you find your artistic eye. As the title of this week’s article states, you have to find the different viewpoint.

To make the photograph really interesting, you will end up recording something which was always there, but until you have captured that image, nobody realized it was there.

Unfortunately there is a great tendency for us all to take very ‘standard’ shots. By ‘standard’, I mean from a very standard viewpoint, so we end up with standard pictures. For example, when was the last time you took a photo that was not taken while you were standing and looking through the viewfinder? A long time, I am sure.

However, when you take a photo from the standard position, you do get something that is instantly recognizable, because the subject of the photo is presented as we normally see that subject. We look up to see street lights, we look down to see children. All sounds boringly obvious. But it is that ‘normal’ viewpoint that can also make your photographs boring.

I have mentioned before that when taking photographs of children, you should get down to be at the same level as they are. This way you will get a much more pleasing photograph of your little bundles of joy. However, when you are down on your knees you have also produced the situation whereby you can get some other different shots. These are a baby’s eye viewpoint of the world, looking up at everyone and everything. It is well worth trying to take some shots of adults, or even the environment of the house. You will be amazed at just what your infants see! You may also be horrified when you see the dust under the computer table!

While still in the ‘looking up’ mode, when you look higher than the ground floor shops, you may find there are some sights well worth recording. Even just washing hanging out can be quite noteworthy. Just try it. Remember too, that you get a distorted shot when you tilt the camera towards the sky. Buildings appear to lean over backwards, the trunks of trees look much more substantial than they really are. It is a kind of exaggerated perspective effect.

It was only by looking up that I got the shot printed with this week’s article. It is actually a shower head in a semi-outdoor shower, with the sunlight causing the interesting effect with the shadows of the wood beams bent across the wall.

The other viewpoint should also be explored, and that is looking down. Since helicopters are expensive to hire, you will find there are many other ways for photographers who are training themselves to look at life differently. There are over-bridges, there are observation platforms, there are even hotels and condominiums with ledges and parapets. They are all there for you to use, after you have looked up to find them.

What lens should you take? This is one of the rare times when I recommend a zoom lens. From the lofty viewpoint, it is difficult to predict what focal length you will need, and rather than taking several lenses up to the platform with you, the zoom can do it all.

There is also the fact that if you go very high up (or even out of the helicopter), a Skylite 1A filter does help get rid of any altitude ‘haze’, but I would expect that most photographers already have the 1A permanently screwed on the front of the lens, just as scratch insurance.

It is important, that as you develop your artistic eye, you experiment with different viewpoints. Not all of them will be successful, but some will be, and the new viewpoint can be the catalyst for some unique art. And surely that is what many of us are trying to achieve.

A trip around the local Wat, looking up and looking down, would be an interesting project for all photographers, from school age to old age. Try it this weekend (just don’t fall)!


Money Matters:  Paul Gambles MBMG International Ltd.

We are in a Depression… part 2

The interests of China and America are growing further apart. For example, China needs more commodities whereas the US does not. One thing is for sure, China is growing and America is in decline as it certainly does not produce enough compared to the whole economy. Also, net savings in the US are low. It is like comparing two companies, one spends everything it earns, pays out dividends and borrows money to buy cars and other non-essentials for its owners. The other saves money to invest in the future for education, research and development, new plant and machinery. The latter will always do better in the long run. It is not difficult to guess which company is America and which one is China.

Consuming means consumption. Save money for emergencies and get through them as, if there is nothing in the bank, you will not survive. America is not the place it used to be at the end of the eighties. There are more car sales in China than the US. In fact there are more in the emerging market nations than in the G16 countries and they use more oil as well.

The US has abused its ability to borrow money and has not saved anything at all over the last few years, and this is one of the main reasons for the drop in the standard of living. Compare this to China and India who have saved and now have growing economies. In 1950, the US was streets ahead of the emerging markets but now the gap has closed, especially with regards to education. In some American states, twenty percent of the population cannot even read English.

As mentioned above, Europe is not immune to the problems either. Spending there is also on the retreat. This is why people are now saying it is a depression and not just a massive surge in consumer debt that is causing the problems.

France’s public debt has risen to over 75% of output in Q3. This follows only a few days after the Fitch ratings agency gave the country a warning on its sovereign credit standing. The UK has receiving the same credit warning and, as we know, Greece, Ireland and Spain have all been downgraded in 2009.

Fitch released a statement in December which said, “UK, Spain and France in particular must articulate more credible fiscal consolidation programmes over the coming year given the pace of fiscal deterioration and the budgetary challenges they face. Failure to do so will greatly intensify pressure on their sovereign ratings.”

It is not just the ratings agencies which are giving out warnings. The EU commission has instructed France to get its act together which, after some initial bleating, it has agreed to do.

The EU has another problem apart from incurred debt and this is the euro. In the past, when the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) had problems they just devalued their own respective currencies. They cannot do this now. According to S&P, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain have all seen a big drop in exchange rates over the last few years. This is only going to get worse if rate increases are started by the European Central Bank (ECB). There could well be a split between the northern euro countries and the southern ones. The ECB is also hampered by the fact that most of the European banks have yet to reveal exactly what their losses are. At least the US and UK are passed most of this.

Germany has ridden the woes of the last couple years quite well. Unemployment is on the way down to around 7.5% whereas Spain and Greece are nearly at twenty percent. No-one really noticed this to start with as the credit boom hid everything. Now, those aforementioned countries are up that well known creek without a paddle. This is not just because of the Germans but also because many of the world’s major currencies have got weaker. The UK pound, Russian ruble and Swedish krona have all dived as has the Turkish lira and many Eastern European currencies. The Chinese have maintained an unofficial peg to the US dollar.

The UK has benefitted from not being part of the euro and the weak pound has given UK companies a big advantage over its European rivals and its output, although far from impressive is a lot better than its counterparts across the Channel.

Things are not all rosy in London though. There has to be an election by May this year at the latest and so the bankers will have to be careful. Does the Bank of England carry on with QE in the hope of bailing Gordon Brown out along with his never ending spend, spend, spend programme and thus risk mass inflation or does it turn off the taps and risk us sliding down the ladder from whence we came?

Faber believes that the demand for oil in Asia will double over the next two decades. At the moment, Asia uses 22 million barrels a day. This will increase to over 40 million per day. The present day oil production is 85 million barrels. Every year we find more oil but we also use more than we actually find so reserve levels will go down which, in turn, means oil prices will rise.

Gold has strengthened due to a weak US dollar and other western currencies. The European Central Bank is a money printer and this is another reason for gold getting more expensive. In 1996, foreign exchange reserves were USD1 trillion. At the moment they are USD7 trillion. Gold has not gone up seven times in this period. In Asia, if you include Japan, central banks hold 70% of the seven trillion US dollars but hold less than 2% in gold. However, this will slowly change and they will follow the Reserve Bank of India, which has done an excellent job recently, and buy more.

Depressed yet? You should be but do not give up all hope. Despite all of the above whereby we are spending more than we can afford and where the repayment schedules are going to be horrendous, the good doctor believes there is still money to be made, especially in the following sectors: Indian financials, Asian real estate even though some of it is over-leveraged at the moment, sugar which is at a 200 year low, agricultural commodities, natural gas, Japan as a contrarian bet and, above all, avoid US government bonds. Basically, go for the multi-asset class approach.

As a brief aside, Bill Bonner of Agora has announced a new annual award to the person who has done the dumbest thing in the financial world during the preceding 12 months. They have named it the “Christopher Columbus Prize,” after the famous sea captain who “didn’t know where he was going, didn’t know where he was when he got there, and as Churchill pointed out, did it all at government expense.” Their choice for the first recipient of this award was Ben Bernancke. Mine is Gordon Brown.

The above data and research was compiled from sources believed to be reliable. However, neither MBMG International Ltd nor its officers can accept any liability for any errors or omissions in the above article nor bear any responsibility for any losses achieved as a result of any actions taken or not taken as a consequence of reading the above article. For more information please contact Paul Gambles on [email protected]


DVD of the Week: By Mark Whitman

There’s always tomorrow

The title of Douglas Sirk’s absorbing movie may be seen as either optimistic or ironic. I suspect that contemporary audiences considered it the former, whereas today – seeing it against the body of this great director’s work – it certainly emerges as the latter. There is, to coin a cliché, a lot more going on than meets the eye.

But first to get a couple of criticisms out of the way. The movie suffers from a serviceable but mundane screenplay. It was almost certainly shot on a rather tight schedule and budget, as was the way at Universal studios. This shows in the casting and the handling of a couple of the three children who are catalysts for the action.

This matters little, since Sirk skillfully transcends most of the weaknesses in the plot and dialogue and creates an Ibsenesque world within the family home, suggesting a female run prison, in which the husband Clifford (Fred McMurray) is the prize inmate.

He is a successful manufacturer of second rate toys, the latest of which is Rex, a walking-talking robot. This, we soon realise, is a mechanical symbol of its manufacturer who is anything but king of his castle. Clifford/Rex has been programmed over two decades to be amiable to his staff and customers, indulgent of his teenagers and especially tolerant of his selfish, family –oriented wife (Joan Bennett).

Left to cool his heels and heat his supper one evening, he opens the front door (wearing an apron, a token of his neutering, used also for the hen pecked father in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause) to find a former employee, Norma (Barbara Stanwyck). She is on a business trip to Los Angeles, launching a new couturier shop as a satellite to her New York base.

Norma had left his company 20 years previously, in love with him but realising that he was already on the drudge mill. Over the next days, their friendship is innocently rekindled, but observed by his children with a combination of misunderstanding and prudishness. His wife meanwhile seems oblivious of the tension swirling around her.

The crunch, when friendship turns to love, comes when Cliff is faced with the choice of life with a worldly and glamorous woman or continuing at home with a wife who acts like a Barbie doll on Valium. In a climactic scene, he is seen alone in his office where he distractedly sets off Rex, which marches towards camera, heading towards the end of a long table and an inevitable fall.

A short coda follows, intercut with Norma flying back East. We are in the family fortress with the kids huddled behind the wooden bars of the staircase. One says, as the parents walk by, ‘Don’t they make a lovely couple?’ The words are an echo of conventions that have become part of their emotional fabric.

It is clear that the youngsters, and possibly the wife, consider the errant father and Norma vanquished. But theirs’ is a Pyrrhic victory and we might consider the words of King Pyrrhus, after the carnage of a ‘successful’ battle against the Romans who said, ‘Another such victory and we are lost’.

The sublimely elegant Douglas Sirk (1900- 1987) began his career, after studying law and philosophy, in pre-war Germany, first in the theatre then in cinema. He was of Danish parentage and was first married to a German, who became a Nazi sympathiser. He remarried and his wife Hilde was Jewish so, like many other film makers and other artists, he was forced to leave Germany when Nazism took over from sanity. Sirk and many other talents found their way to the U.S.A. and made careers there, greatly enriching the cultural scene.

Like many émigrés he eventually returned to Europe. Sirk left after his greatest commercial success Imitation of Life and retired with Hilde to Lugano and contributed to a couple of short films and taught film occasionally in Munich. He was a regular guest on film juries and at major retrospectives of his work throughout Europe where his reputation as an auteur was burnished by the French. He was for years an honoured ‘fixture’ at the nearby Locarno Film Festival. He directed many films, often mistakenly called ‘weepies’, and some like this film are available from the DVD Film and Music shop on Suthep Road. Among his greatest studies of American life are Written on the Wind, Magnificent Obsession. Interlude, All that Heaven Allows and Tarnished Angels. He also directed several charming musicals and earlier in his career film noir classics such as Shockproof and Lured.


Let's Go To The Movies:  by Mark Gernpy

If you want to see some fictional violence for a change, you have some dandy choices this week. Really a smorgasbord of violence. The most extreme, should you care to try it, is “Ong-Bak 3”. You need to be flexible about movies at the moment, as times change rapidly by the influence of the political situation and in line with the curfew regulations.

Now playing in Chiang Mai

Shrek Forever After - 3D: US, Animation/ Adventure/ Comedy/ Family/ Fantasy – The further adventures of the giant green ogre, Shrek, living in the land of Far, Far Away, this time in 3D. Now domesticated and bored, Shrek makes a pact with deal-maker Rumpelstiltskin to get the real ogre feeling once again, but is duped and sent to a twisted version of Far, Far Away. With the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy. In 3D at Major Cineplex, 2D and Thai-dubbed only at Vista. Early reviews: Mixed or average.

Sam Yan: Thai, Comedy – Usual regurgitation of Thai slapstick comedy. A dead passenger on a bus returns to haunt the driver, etc. Rated 18+ in Thailand. Thai only at Major Cineplex, with English subtitles at Vista.

The Losers: US, Action/ Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller – An action tale of betrayal and revenge. After being betrayed and left for dead, members of an elite Special Forces black ops team root out those who targeted them for assassination. Loud, fast, and unrelentingly violent – but it’s also funny and well-acted, which will make all the difference for some action fans. Mixed or average reviews. At Vista only.

Robin Hood: US, Action/ Drama – Robin Hood as gladiator, brought to life by Russell Crowe, all grunting and scowling. There are lots of swashes buckled and swords clanked. This re-visit to Sherwood’s most famous forest is brought to you by Ridley Scott, responsible for “Alien” and “Gladiator”. It’s something of an origin story, finding historical context by telling of Hood’s early days as an archer in the service of King Richard, before he became the man in tights redistributing the crown’s wealth. The Airport Plaza version has digital sound and image in their Cinema 3. Mixed or average reviews.

Iron Man 2: US, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-Fi/ Thriller – Directed by Jon Favreau, starring Robert Downey Jr. It isn’t quite the breath of fresh air that “Iron Man” was, but this sequel comes close, with solid performances and an action-packed plot. I was particularly impressed with the work of Mickey Rourke. If you enjoy action movies, you should like this one; it has the requisite sound, fury, and flash. Vista also has a Thai-dubbed version. Mixed or average reviews.

Furry Vengeance: US, Comedy/ Family – A real estate developer faces a unique group of protesters: local woodland creatures who don’t want their homes disturbed. Live-action animals with animated mouths. 92 minutes of abuse. Generally unfavorable reviews.

The Bounty Hunter: US, Action/ Comedy – Gerard Butler plays a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter who gets his dream job when he is assigned to track down his bail-jumping ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston). Critics say the two leads are as attractive as ever, but the script doesn’t know what to do with them. Generally unfavorable reviews.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: US, Fantasy/ Horror –. A group of suburban teenagers share one common bond: they are all being stalked by Freddy Krueger, a horribly disfigured killer who hunts them in their dreams. As long as they stay awake, they’re okay. Critics have not been kind to this remake, saying that it lives up to its title in the worst possible way. 18+ in Thailand. Generally unfavorable reviews.

Ong-Bak 3: Thai, Action – Tony Jaa in the historical martial-arts conclusion of the two-part prequel to the “Ong-Bak” movie that made him a star in 2003. Rated 18+ in Thailand. It’s a sickeningly violent work of film art, and I object to what he expects me as an audience member to put up with. We’re not all as sadistic as Jaa is masochistic.

Nevertheless, the picture is fascinating. Jaa is a true artist, and has expanded the form of the martial arts film in unforeseen ways, incorporating not only many strands of martial arts disciplines, but also many strands of Thai culture, and its dances and rituals and meditational poses. He again incorporates traditional palace dance forms into this film, probably to the dismay of action junkies. He is endlessly inventive, and brings unsurpassed energy, athleticism, and zeal to his projects. And the films, which always have their surreal qualities, are exceptional works of art.

Ip Man 2: Hong Kong, Action/ Biography/ History – The second in a trilogy of semi-biographical martial arts films based on the life of Ip Man, a grandmaster of the martial art Wing Chun and the first person to teach Wing Chun openly. One of his students was Bruce Lee. Thai-dubbed only, and only at Airport Plaza.


Bridge in Paradise : by Neil Robinson

Floored by a fiendish play

You are West and pick up this nice hand: 

S: AQ7

H: 76

D: AK9652

C: 86 

This is the bidding (South deals, EW vulnerable): 

South      West (you)    North    East

1H           2D                   2H          3D

3H           4D                   4H          All pass 

You lead a top diamond and see this dummy: 

S: KJ542

H: 1085

D: -

C: Q10743 

Declarer ruffs your top diamond in dummy, leads a low club to the ace of clubs in hand, and then leads the ten of spades from hand. Before you look at the full deal below, decide which of your three spades (AQ7) you would play on this lead.

The full deal is:

                        S: KJ542

                        H: 1085

                        D: -

                        C: Q10743

S: AQ7                                S: 83

H: 76                                   H: J92

D: AK9652                         SD: J1083

C: 86                                   C: KJ52

                        S: 1096

                        H: AKQ43

                        D: Q74

                        C: A9           

Did you opt to play the ace? Most players would. Your best move after winning the ace is to lead a club, hoping that your partner can win and then give you a club ruff. Success—partner wins with the jack, and leads back the king. Declarer ruffs and you over ruff. Unfortunately, it is now all over for the defence. Declarer wins any return, pulls trumps, leads spades to finesse you and ends up winning four heart tricks, four spade tricks, the ace of clubs and a diamond ruff. Ten tricks and contract made.

Maybe you chose to play a low spade, hoping that declarer would guess wrong and go up with the king, leaving your ace and queen as masters. In this case, declarer’s ten would hold the trick. Now declarer knows the spade situation, he switches tack and ruffs another diamond on board. He then leads dummy’s last trump, pulls trumps, and finesses again in spades. The defence can take a diamond, a spade and a club, but that is all. Declarer takes the other ten tricks and makes the contract.

I played this hand as declarer. If the queen of spades is onside, then the hand should make. But what if the queen is offside and I guess wrong and lose two spade tricks, in addition to a club trick? In that case, I cannot afford to lose a diamond. That is why I chose to test one round of spades before pulling trumps. As described above, against most defenders (ie. all those who play the ace or low on the second trick), this line of play makes the contract. Unfortunately for me, West found the fiendish play of the queen. On the face of it, this seems like a give up play, sacrificing the queen for nothing. But look what happens next.

Since the ace of spades was out, I still could not afford to pull trumps, because I was wide open in diamonds. Since I was on board, I could not ruff a diamond. I knew I was at risk of a defensive cross-ruff, but I had no choice but to knock out the spade ace and hope for favourable distribution or a passive defence to save me. Consequently, I led back to the nine of spades in hand, taken by the ace. West then led a club to the jack. The king of clubs came back, which I ruffed and she over-ruffed. She then led a spade for East to ruff, and another club came back. This time I ruffed high, and managed to scrape the rest of the tricks for one down. I still don’t know quite what hit me—if I were holding West’s hand, I would probably still go up with the ace, and thus let declarer make the contract!

Bridge Club of Chiang Mai welcomes new players. For information on the Club go to the web site at www.bridgeclubchiangmai.com. If you have bridge questions, or to send me your interesting hands, please contact me at: [email protected]


MAIL OPINION : By Shana Kongmun

Violence on the streets

I won’t go into the politics of this entire thing because, while I do have an opinion, in light of all that’s happened, here and in Bangkok, it’s not appropriate to air. I think. I will, however, share my experiences of late.

Bullet holes next to the front door of the hotel in Bangkok, more than a little too close for anyone’s comfort.

My friend convinced me to fly down to Bangkok the weekend of the 15th for a girls night out. Sure, there were threats of an imminent crackdown but those have been ongoing for weeks. It seemed silly to put my life on hold for something that may or may not happen. Unfortunately for me and my friends, not only was that the weekend it did happen but we also chose to stay in a hotel that had been, prior to this, in a safe zone; Soi Ngam Duphli, just off Rama IV. The Kasikorn Bank that was torched was less than 20 meters away. The day I arrived, things seemed to be changing, but how were we to know that within an hour of my arrival bullets would start flying? Hindsight is a marvelous thing, and I would have told myself, “Get out now” had I realized.

I had gone to a friend’s place just down the soi, only to find myself trapped inside the apartment, watching soldiers advance down the road, Molotov cocktails being thrown, tires being burned. There were loud cheers from the red shirt side of the street and while not terrified at the time, it hit me later how really frightening it was, delayed shock my friends said.

Smoke rises from the burning tires on Rama IV, two days later the bank on the corner was torched.

When the shooting died down a few hours later, I ventured out in to the soi, to go back down, collect my trapped friend and get the heck out of Dodge. On my way, several men leaning against their motorcycles eyed me and said, “Hello, where you go?” I am used to the friendly, shouted version of this oft used phrase in Thailand. This was not that version. Perhaps they wondered what crazed farang woman would be walking down the soi and to the hotel, but it unsettled me as it felt to me as an implied threat of some kind. Perhaps it was the tear gas and flying bullets that made me suspicious but I was much relieved to enter the hotel, albeit via the back way since they had had to block off the now bullet riddled entrance. Red shirts had attempted to enter the hotel so staff had blocked off the main doors and someone had parked his truck across the car park entrance so they couldn’t enter.

As dusk approached and we frantically tried to figure out a way of getting out, the option of walking out was offered and rejected, I knew there was no way two single women were walking past those guys again, taxis couldn’t get in, and we couldn’t get out. So, we stayed the night. Waking up to the intermittent sounds of what could only have been some kind of bomb, and sporadic gunfire, the whole thing was surreal.

We got out the next morning with two gentlemen who shared their ride with us; they were headed to the airport, we to the higher numbers of Sukhumvit to find our other friend, who had been, thankfully, unable to return to the hotel after a day of shopping.

With a friend who was still trapped in his apartment on the very same soi we had just escaped, I fretted until I learned that he had finally managed to get out yesterday afternoon. Another friend was forced to remain in his apartment off Sukhumvit, hopefully both of their neighborhoods return to safety. Another Bangkok friend had had enough and left yesterday for the beach, only to find out that the Tesco Lotus that he shops at in On Nut had been attacked as the violence had branched out across the city.

Central World is destroyed, at the latest count, more than 39 buildings were torched, and the Channel 3 building was set alight with staff trapped inside, rescued by helicopters, thankfully. It seems the troubles have come to Chiang Mai as well, albeit so far, on a much smaller scale, with Red shirts burning tires on Nawarat Bridge. A woman I know was stuck in traffic on Sunday when the motorcycles came through, with people pounding on car roofs and hoods. There are reports of attempts to enter the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel, before being chased off, banks being attacked and random fires during the night.

Curfew has been instituted in the Province and an economy already suffering from a lack of tourists will shortly see itself buckle under if this continues much longer, for who wants to come to a city where you aren’t sure if violence can erupt at any time? And now, as many protestors return from Bangkok, what do we residents of Chiang Mai have to look forward to? Can peace be kept? Can some kind of reconciliation come about? Or will we see this city’s reputation as equally tarnished in the eyes of the travelling community as Bangkok’s is now?


How does your garden grow?: By Eric Danell,Dokmai Garden

Another snake in my garden!

In Thailand there are some 180 species of snakes, of which at least 50 species occur on Doi Suthep. About 12 species should be considered dangerous. Since Chiang Mai University apparently does not perform research on reptiles, we have to manage on our own. In a previous column I described the cobra in our wardrobe. This morning I encountered another snake. This was the beautiful Marbled Cat Snake (Boiga multomaculata). It was sleeping in a hanging flower basket made of coconut. The immediate response of the Thai staff was to kill it. They do not bother to identify different snake species, they are all considered dangerous and useless, possibly edible. I was quite happy to find this species, not only because of its beauty, but because it is a nocturnal egg-eater, and we currently have too many Eurasian Tree-sparrows nesting in the roofs made of rice straw.

This snake is theoretically mildly venomous, but in reality there are no reports of accidents. Its large eye with a vertical pupil indeed looks like a cat’s eye. It does resemble the dangerous Russell’s Viper, but that viper has not been found in Lanna. Also, a viper is stout, like a fully pumped bicycle tube, while a cat snake is flattened sideways, looking like a bicycle tube with hardly any air. Small children should be taught early to treat all snakes as dangerous, or they will pick up snakes and carry them around. A relative of mine, at age 2, declared he had found a fish (carrying a viper by its tail). When children get older, one can teach them to differentiate snake species, and explain that some are helpful, some are dangerous. By knowing the species, a gardener can make the correct decision whether to kill it or to use it in his garden. A reptile book is a good start, and studies of harmless road kills will give you experience to identify a venomous snake in a second. Identification is important for using the correct antidote at a hospital. Knowledge can save lives! www.dokmaigarden.co.th. www.dokmaidogma.wordpress.com.


Life in Chiang Mai: By Colin Jarvis

Silom Sadness

A couple of months ago I was in Bangkok staying in a small hotel between Sala Daeng and Silom near to the BST and sky train stations. I was a little concerned as the Redshirts had built a camp nearby and I was worried that my movements might be restricted. The Redshirts did not seem to be much in evidence and so I decided to remain where I was unless the situation changed. I had a number of meetings to attend and did not want to be slowed down if I could avoid it.

Timekeeping is a fetish of mine. My watchstrap broke and I was concerned that this alone could cause me to miss appointments even if the Redshirts remained out of sight. My watch is very inexpensive but it is easy to read and keeps very good time. I did not wish to spend much on the strap and so I went to the watch-repairer on Sala Daeng Station. He had the perfect strap at a very good price and so I left my watch with him whilst I went into the Central department store to buy some wine. On my return I was astonished to find that he was still struggling to fit the strap to the watch. I went away on another errand, returning in 45 minutes. The poor chap was still struggling. I asked him if he wished to continue or whether he would rather give up. He asked me to leave it with him, which I did, returning some two hours later to find him finally succeeding following some dextrous use of a small file, a pair of pliers and some small screwdrivers.

He must have spent at least a solid hour if not for more, on fulfilling my commission. I offered to pay him for the extra time he had used but he refused. His bright eyed, open face expressed satisfaction with a job well done and happiness that he had pleased a customer. I gave him the poor recompense he requested and thanked him profusely.

This man is typical of many Thais. He is determined to do a good job, to charge a reasonable but not excessive price and hopes that by living a good life he will be able to bring up a family and educate his children who will do better than he did. He is the sort of man for whom I have tremendous respect and in my short acquaintance with him came to like him.

On my way back to the hotel I noticed a lady in the street selling socks that looked exactly the type that for some weeks I had been searching. I gave her 100 Baht and received four pairs of socks in return. They have proved to be superb and exceptionally good value. I hope to find her again so I can buy some more.

A little closer to the hotel I called in at a small restaurant I know that produces exceptionally good food in a clean, wholesome atmosphere at an incredibly reasonable price. It is geared to attract local Thais rather than tourists even though it is in a tourist area. As always, I was welcomed profusely and a large bottle of beer Singh was placed before me even before I had asked. I had a long discussion with the owner about children and education and how well our respective children had performed in the recent examinations at the end of term. He, like many Thais, is passionate about making sure his children have the best possible education. Replete after my meal and not wishing to return to my hotel and have to start working again quite so soon, I stopped at a small massage shop and had a foot massage. One hour and a 100 Baht later I floated back to my hotel to do some work before leaving for a meeting. I felt extremely lucky that in a relatively short period of time I had had some very pleasant interactions with some extremely nice people whom I respect hugely for their outlook on life and their determination to please their customers.

In a few weeks I will have to return to Bangkok on business. I will stay at the same hotel, but will I be able to eat at the same restaurant, have another of my watches repaired or buy some of those fantastic socks? I am not sure that this will be possible. These excellent people have spent six weeks unable to conduct their business. I have the impression that most of them are running their businesses on a shoestring and are unlikely to have huge savings to tide them over difficult times. The hotel I use will still be in business, I have checked, but they had been virtually empty for the last few weeks whilst being extremely nervous about their own safety.

Many people have died during these demonstrations. This is tragic but most of the dead had chosen to be where they were. Whatever the aims of the Redshirts are, whatever they think they can achieve, however much damage they have done to the economy the one thing that saddens me the most about their activities is the lives thousands of ordinary, good people, they have disrupted, perhaps damaged for ever. I shall visit Silom again quite soon. I hope the watch-repairer and the sock lady have survived.


Day Tripper: By Jane Doh Photos by Passakorn Chairat

A gem of a Temple: Wat Umong

Just outside the moat, is a gem of a place to visit. It’s a Temple, but no ordinary Temple. It’s a temple set within a forest, which has winding trails leading to interesting places and objects, and a beautiful lake. The temple is Wat Umong.

Wat Umong was built approximately 700 years ago, and has maze like tunnels, earning it its name “Umong”, meaning tunnel. The place is dotted with placards of wise proverbs in English and Thai. Many of which will have you nodding your head in agreement, and some of which may cause you to smirk. There are paintings and relics, and several books on Buddhism available to buy in English and Thai. Even if you are not Buddhist, some titles may catch your attention. There are also informal Dhamma discussions (“Monk Chat”). However, for me, Wat Umong is a place to go and clear my head by its beautiful lake. Usually I will go buy a bag of fish food from the vender next to the lake, then head to the water to watch the giant cat fish gobble up the pellets. They come in a flurry, causing water to foam and fly up. I try to spy a terrapin (or is it a turtle?..or tortoise?..to this day I haven’t yet fathomed that one out, but there are many of whatever it is!). Whilst sitting, I’m serenaded by the sound of wooing pigeons. The “coo coo” is quite calming. Sometimes I watch them play the game of “catch me if you can”, as the hen dives from tree branch to tree branch, in an attempt to escape the amorous intentions of the cock. It’s blissfully peaceful and relaxing. The only thing to remember if you do decide to go along, is of course to dress respectfully.

Wat Umong is roughly 2km off Suthep Road. Look for the “Mi Casa” sign, and take the same soi. “Monk Chat” is on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 1pm and 3pm, and on Sundays between 3pm and 5pm.


Staying happy in Paradise - the Counseling Corner

by Richard L. Fellner

Chok dee...?

“One for the road?” - Pretty much every one of us has said that on certain occasions, like with friends in a cozy round or during a party. However, if the “one” is followed by another on a regular basis, a problem exists. I live in Pattaya also, and know well how hard it can be to pass the countless offers of “Happy Hours” or invitations of friends to join in.

But not being able to say ‘No’ in this city quickly develops into a serious drinking problem. Too many people already empty their first beer before noon. Even more are drinking behind closed doors.

The most expensive bill for this behavior will have to be paid by one’s body and psyche. Alcohol is a personality changing drug. Often its abuse is marginalized for years - to the point where a doctor will have to diagnose permanent physical damage. The most common being liver damage, heart attacks, damage to skin, blood vessels and nerves.

From a psychological point of view, alcoholism is almost always associated with psychological stress - stress can be repressed with alcohol. So even for relatives it can take a long time to become fully aware of the full significance of the problem. The initial symptoms are looking out for drinking opportunities, increased demand to achieve the same effect, secret or very rapid drinking.

Richard L. Fellner heads the Counseling Center Pattaya in Soi Kopai and offers consultations in English and German after making appointments at 0854 370 470.